For those planning a New Zealand vacation, a driving holiday along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway showcases the best sights of the Northland region.
The Twin Coast Discovery Highway is a circular route, starting in the city of Auckland, going up one coast of Northland to the very tip at Cape Reinga and then returning to Auckland down the other coast. The route can be travelled in either direction. Along the way you’ll find beautiful beaches, areas of great historical interest, majestic forests, bustling townships, talented artists and craftspeople, wineries, and picturesque farmland.
A Driving Holiday Along the West Coast of Northland
On a driving holiday heading north of Auckland on State Highway 16, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway passes through the wine country of West Auckland’s Kumeu area. Here there are many vineyards which offer wine tastings and sales. Some also have cafes so you can sample their wines with local foods.
At Matakohe on State HIghway 12, the Kauri Museum celebrates New Zealand’s mightiest tree, the kauri. Learn about the kauri tree, its importance to the local Maori people and the early settlers who made their living from its timber and gum. As well as the outstanding exhibits and interactive displays in the main museum, there are buildings from the nineteenth century – a post office, school and church – that give a good idea of life in the days of the pioneers.
From Dargaville north, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway passes along the Kauri Coast, so named for the forests where the kauri and other native trees grow. A side road takes you to the Kai Iwi Lakes, a cluster of three freshwater lakes that offer trout fishing, swimming, camping and many shady picnic spots.
Another side road leads to Trounson Kauri Park, a peaceful spot deep in the forest. Guided night-time walks in the bush are organised by the Department of Conservation. At this time you may be lucky enough to hear and see a kiwi, New Zealand’s flightless, nocturnal bird.
Further north, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway winds through the Waipoua Forest. This area of outstanding natural beauty gives the visitor an idea of what New Zealand’s Northland was like centuries ago before the land was cleared for farming and habitation. The Waipoua Forest is home to Tane Mahuta, the country’s largest kauri tree. Thought to be over 2000 years old, it is called the ‘God of the Forest’ by the Maori people.
The Hokianga Harbour with its massive sand dunes and picturesque beaches is an area that saw some of the first settlements in New Zealand. Now the little villages are home to many artists and artisans. At the historic town of Rawene, a car ferry takes you across the harbour to continue on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway.
North of Kaitaia, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway leads up the narrow jutting peninsula of the Far North to Cape Reinga. Here, below this windswept ridge, the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. At the end of the Cape a lone tree is said by Maori to be the place where the spirits of the dead leave New Zealand on their final journey.
A New Zealand Vacation Along the East Coast of Northland
From Cape Reinga, retrace the road to Waipapakauri then turn onto State Highway 10 for the Twin Coast Discovery Highway’s eastern route. Around Taipa and Cable Bay there are beautiful beaches, popular for fishing and swimming. The historic town of Mangonui has an interesting walking trail round its oldest buildings.
Kerikeri has the oldest stone building (1832) and the oldest wooden house (1821) still standing, in the whole of New Zealand. The Kerikeri area is steeped in history as it was the site of the first mission station and had been an important settlement for Maori for many centuries. A replica of a Maori village can be visited as can several Historic Places Trust properties. Nowadays Kerikeri is a busy town surrounded by citrus orchards.
On to the Bay of Islands. Many boat tours such as dolphin watching and trips to the outer islands leave from the resort town of Paihia. Little ferry boats take people across the bay to historic Russell, site of New Zealand’s first European settlement and now a big-game fishing centre. Its peaceful, laid-back atmosphere is in sharp contrast to the 1830’s when it was considered to be the ‘hell-hole of the Pacific’.
At Waitangi in 1840 the treaty arranged between Maori and Britain formed the basis of nationhood for New Zealand. The Treaty House can be visited and the flagpole on the lawn marks the spot where the treaty was signed.
Whangarei is Northland’s largest city, a busy place with a picturesque marina lined with cafes and shops. A detour from the city takes you to the seaside village of Ngunguru and the deep-sea fishing port of Tutukaka.
South of Whangarei, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway winds along the east coast to Waipu, a town which celebrates its Scottish heritage with Highland Games each New Year’s Day. From there, it leads to Mangawhai with its stunning surf beach, coastal walkways, estuary and sand dunes, and artists’ trail.
Rejoining State Highway 1, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway leads back to Auckland.
For a tourist with limited time for a New Zealand vacation in the North Island, a driving holiday along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway is an ideal route to give a good overview of Northland. Some of this country’s most important historical places, its present way of life in little villages, towns and cities, and the outstanding natural beauty of its beaches, forests and farmland can be seen along the way.